The O|2 lab building at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is functional, flexible and visually striking, while being economical and quick to build. The challenge of successfully integrating all these elements required smart structural design solutions.

The building has been described as a cube with an open heart, due to the dramatic holes in the middle and in two corners. Its architecture is intended to be open and extrovert with lots of daylight and areas for people to meet and exchange ideas. The ground floor is open to the public with shops and a restaurant. Beneath the building is a car park which pre-dates the construction. Critical for the long-term success of the building was the need for it to be flexible enough to adapt to changing methods and techniques used in research.

Quick, cost-effective construction made possible by clever design

These were the challenges facing Royal HaskoningDHV’s structural design team, who responded with an elegant set of solutions to address each individual challenge. The building as a whole has a modular structure of pre-fabricated concrete sections to provide quick and economical construction.

The forces from upper floors are carried by dramatic slanting columns situated in the open sections and there is no central supporting core. These features enabled all the floors to be constructed in the same way, which not only contributed to construction ease, but also to the future flexible use of the building. Rooms and laboratories can be created and re-sized without the constraints of internal walls or supports. On the ground floor, a steel structure makes the transition from the grid of the existing car park to the grid of the building.

Structure meets tight schedule and budget

Every element was carefully considered to ensure efficiency and minimise cost. For example, the prefab façade elements have two window openings as standard. However, because these openings are not required on the corner elements, they were potentially heavier and would need a larger crane. By working with temporary openings in these corner elements, just one crane size was required.

Risks in pricing and execution planning were reduced by well-developed tender documents. As a result, the building was completed on time to a very tight schedule without problems. The flexibility of the design was already apparent during execution when changes made to plans were quickly and easily incorporated.

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